The MLB playoff picture is taking shape and the Minnesota Twins are in position to claim their first AL Central since 2020. Barring any late run, the Twins will be the third seed in the American League and face the sixth seed, though who that team will be remains to be seen.
This year’s playoff format features six teams from each league that will be made up of the three division winners and three wild card teams. The top two division winners will get first-round byes, the third division winner will face the third wild card team, and the first and second wild card teams will face each other. The wild card round will be a best-of-three series at the higher seed’s ballpark. The winners will move on to the best-of-five ALDS.
As the standings sit today, the Twins would face the Texas Rangers in the wild card round, but the Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, and Houston Astros are all realistic possibilities. Each of these teams presents a unique challenge as the Twins seek to pick up their first postseason win in 19 years.
Texas Rangers (84-68)
Twins’ 2023 Head-to-Head Record: 5-2
The Twins fared well against the Rangers in the regular season and would be happy to see them again in the playoffs.
The Rangers have struggled down the stretch, posting a record below .500 (9-10) in September thus far. The loss of Max Scherzer for the remainder of the season hurts their pitching depth as they look to make a run at an AL West crown.
Outside of Scherzer, Nathan Eovaldi and Dane Dunning appear to be the Rangers' top two starters heading into the playoffs. Dunning has posted a 3.78 ERA with 127 Ks over 157 IP this season. Meanwhile, Eovaldi is 11-4 with a 3.05 ERA this year; however, he has struggled as of late, allowing nine earned runs in just 12 innings over his last four starts.
The bullpen has been a weak spot for the Rangers all year but is led by some strong arms including Jose Leclerc, Jordan Montgomery, Chris Stratton, and mid-season acquisition Aroldis Chapman who all have an ERA+ above 130. The Ranger’s issue is that outside of those four guys, only one reliever has earned an ERA+ over 100.
At the plate, the Rangers have been exceptional this season, scoring the most runs (841) of any American League squad. The bats are led by Corey Seager (176 OPS+) and Marcus Semien (121 OPS+), but the Rangers get contributions up and down their lineup. Ten players have double-digit homerun numbers, and the team has an AL best .266 batting average.
Toronto Blue Jays (85-68)
Twins’ 2023 Head-to-Head Record: 3-3
The Blue Jays have stayed in the playoff race all season in a tough AL East division, and a strong record in September (12-7) has them in position to claim an AL Wild Card spot.
Toronto’s strong starting pitching and solid bullpen support a lineup that hits better for average than for power.
Bo Bichette (.303 BA, 19 HR) and Brandon Belt (131 OPS+) have led the Blue Jays offense this season although Belt has played only three games since Sept. 1. The pairing of Bichette and Belt is supported by a lineup of primarily veterans that has combined to have a .257 batting average, good for ninth in all of baseball.
From the bump, the Blue Jays have five starters with an ERA+ above 110 which will be advantageous in the postseason. Kevin Gausman (3.29 ERA, 232 Ks) appears to be the ace heading into the playoffs, but the number two spot is up for grabs between Chris Bassit, Yusei Kikuchi, and former Twin Jose Berrios. Even Hyun-Jin Ryu is in the mix after a late-season return from Tommy John surgery. If the Blue Jays were to make a deep postseason run, it would be their starting pitching depth that leads them there.
Closer Jordan Romano is tied for fifth in the MLB with 35 saves and Tim Mayza is having a breakout season for the Blue Jays, pitching to a 1.40 ERA across 51.1 innings of work this year. Meanwhile, Jordan Hicks and Genesis Cabrera, who were acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals in separate trades, have allowed just 11 ER across 41 innings since joining the teams. Teams will not be comfortable trailing late against the Blue Jays this postseason.
Seattle Mariners (84-68)
Twins’ 2023 Head-to-Head Record: 3-4
On July 19, the Mariners were 47-48 and in fourth place in the AL West. Since then, Seattle has gone 37-20 and is now tied for the third AL Wild Card spot. The Mariners will essentially decide their own destiny as their final ten games are split between seven against the Rangers and three against the Astros.
This year’s Seattle team is well-balanced and highlighted by an outstanding bullpen. The Mariners have seven relievers that have an ERA below 3.40 and those relievers have combined to strike out 320 batters in 275.1 innings. That group of relievers is led by Andres Munoz who has 13 saves this season and regularly touches 100 MPH with his fastball.
The Mariners’ rotation is led by Cy Young candidate Luis Castillo (3.06 ERA, 207 Ks), but fellow starters Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, and Bryce Miller are all having good seasons as well. The trio each have an ERA below 3.90 and a combined WHIP below 1.10.
Young superstar Julio Rodriguez and J.P. Crawford’s breakout season have led the Mariners' offense this season. Rodriguez is batting .285 with 31 HR and 100 RBI, while Crawford has a .264 average with 16 HR and 34 2B. Veterans Eugenio Suarez and Teoscar Hernandez have also been important contributors this year, adding 21 HR and 25 HR, respectively. Additionally, young catcher Cal Raleigh has contributed 29 HR and 22 2B on the season.
Houston Astros (85-68)
Twins’ 2023 Head-to-Head Record: 4-2
The Astros come in with the most postseason experience of these four teams and would likely be the most formidable opponent, too. Houston is also the most recent team to beat the Twins in the playoffs when they won both games of the first-round series in 2020.
Houston has by far the most complete roster the Twins could face in the first round. Jose Altuve (.312 BA, 17 HR), Yordan Alvarez (28 HR, 93 RBI), Alex Bregman (24 HR, 96 RBI), and Kyle Tucker (28 HR, 108 RBI) are looking to bring the Astros to their fourth World Series in five years. That core is surrounded by players like Jose Abreu, who is closer to hitting like his former self after a slow start; Jeremy Pena, last season's World Series MVP; and Chas McCormick and Yainer Diaz, both of whom are hitting above .280 and each have 20+ HR.
For much of the season, the Astros’ bullpen was led by closer Ryan Pressly (30 saves, 71 Ks), as well as relievers Hector Neris (1.87 ERA, 71 Ks) and Bryan Abreu (1.87 ERa, 91 Ks). Even with that much firepower, Houston added reliever Kendall Graveman at the trade deadline and he has performed well since joining the team, posting an ERA of 2.70 and striking out 22 batters over 20 innings of work.
Along with the addition of Graveman at the deadline, the Astros also brought back Justin Verlander in a trade with the Mets. Since rejoining the rotation, Verlander has struck out 50 batters across 55 innings on his way to a 3.93 ERA. Verlander will be a great complement to Framber Valdez (3.20 ERA, 183 Ks) and the rest of the Astros’ rotation down the stretch.